Genet's menacing and hilarious world of political intrigue, violent revolution and distorted eroticism is measured against the mass-media manipulation of today. THE BALCONY will run from tonight, October 11 to November 4 at The Arclight Theatre located at 152 West 71st Street. It will be presented by Horizon Theatre Rep (www.HTRonline.org). Showtimes are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 3:00 pm. The ticket prices are $18 (tdf) and the box office is SMARTTIX, which may be accessed at (212) 868-4444 or at www.smarttix.com. The running time is two hours.
To Horizon Theatre Rep, the best way to emphasize the Orwellian themes of THE BALCONY by Jean Genet is to keep it simple. So their production tonight, October 11 to November 4 at the Arclight Theatre, directed by Frank Licato, will eschew the pomp of some historical productions. It will populate the chimerical classic with baby-kissing, pancake-eating, sleeves-rolled-up politicians who might be recognized from our current electoral campaigns. The idea is to illustrate the essential theme of the play: the transformation of our industrial society into a technocracy where image rules over substance.
Originally written in 1956, THE BALCONY is a mind-blowing trip into a menacing and hilarious world of political intrigue, violent revolution and distorted eroticism. In a European city aflame with revolution, Madame Irma runs a bordello in which men from all walks of life pay to act out S&M games while dressed up and acting like powerful figureheads of the regime: the Bishop, the General of the Army and the Chief of Police. The play offers perhaps the ultimate statement on the relationship between sex, power and iconography when Madame Irma and her patrons appear on the Balcony in their costumes as the Queen, General, Judge and Bishop in order to calm the city after its royal palace and rulers are destroyed. Outside the brothel, an uprising threatens to engulf the streets. Inside, play-acting turns to reality, as the patrons don the costumes of the powerful on the building's balcony in order to attempt to quell the insurrection.
Genet felt that many productions of his play were carried away by overuse of meta-theatrical devices and the exaggerated acting that accompanied them. He called the 1962 London production badly acted, along with productions in New York, Berlin and Paris that he refused to see. The play, it should be remembered, focuses on a political illusion. It is set in a brothel where sexuality plays almost no role, where we are mostly shown the desire for power. In this weird world, imposters can project power upon the mob by displaying themselves in the Bishop's miter, the General's uniform or the Judge's robe. In our time, the process has not changed but the costume has. Rolled-up sleeves are used to display affinity with the working class as politicians grasp for power. Campaign garb brings with it a new illusion of power.
So, director Frank Licato's vision is to do the play in "modern dress," re-casting the bordello as a bunker. It's a redoubt in the "No Exit" way and a last sanctuary from what is going on outside. Machine gun fire and missile exchanges are going on nearby and this idea must be present in the room, but in an acting sense. As much as possible, the style will be realistic. The concept is "power-people" seeming to be "everyday-people."
Artistic Director Rafael De Mussa adds that Genet ironically predicted the loss of privacy we have achieved through technology. In Act I Madame Irma remarks, “One can hear all that's going on in the street. Which means that from the street one can hear what's going on in this house.” This, says De Mussa, is analogous to how technological surveillance, the Internet and cellphone photos reveal everything in our "inner house."
Licato and De Mussa feel strongly that the play is gender-neutral; to accentuate that, they have cast Irma with a man, Marc Geller, who will perform the part in drag. The judge is played by a woman, Sheilagh Weymouth. The actors are Lyndsey Anderson, Tara Cioletti, Crawford M. Collins, Fabio Costaprado, Andreas Damm, Rafael De Mussa, Marc Geller, Kevin Gilmartin, Kristen Lazzarini, Hunter Macnair, Timothy Mele, Victor Joel Ortiz, Frank Palmer, Mitzi Peirone, Orlando Rivera, Imran W. Sheikh, Sheilagh Weymouth and L.B. Williams.